Archives for category: District of Columbia

Valerie Strauss posted an important essay on her blog “The Answer Sheet” by Steve Bumbaugh, a former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board from 2015 until early this year. Bumbaugh graduated from Yale University and Stanford School of Business. His parents were ministers.

He writes:

Let’s travel back to September 2017. I was in Southeast Washington, D.C., scheduled to tour a school in an hour. I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system. That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.

At the time of this visit, I was a member of board of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), having started my tenure in 2015 and serving until early this year. In that capacity, I visited dozens of D.C.-based charter schools. Sometimes, I left those visits saddened, even defeated.

This was one of those times.

Over several decades of work at the intersection of education and poverty, I have learned that much of a school’s character can be divined through its start-of-the-day ritual. So on that day in 2017, I arrived early and sat in my car, far enough away that no one seemed to notice me, but near enough so that I could observe the comings and goings. Several young Black women arrived at school with their children who look to be 5 or 6 years old. They were greeted by staff members, and I observed them having what appeared to be tense conversations with the women. Some of these women left with their children in tow. Others handed their children over to staff members and departed.

When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms. They took me on a tour of several classrooms. I noticed that the leadership of the school was entirely White as were many of the teachers. All of the students were African American, most from families that struggle financially.

For the most part, the school looked like most other “no excuses” charter schools in the nation’s capital, dotting low-income African American neighborhoods, and in other places across the country.

These schools start with the belief that there is no good reason for the huge academic gaps between privileged and poor minority students — and that strict discipline, obedience, uniform teaching methods and other policies could erase the gaps. A feature of many of these schools, and one evident on this site visit, are lines painted on the hallway floors. Students are expected to walk on these lines as they move from classroom to classroom. Any deviation is likely to result in punishment. The only other places I had seen this before was at correctional facilities.

I entered a preschool classroom where students were gathered in a semi-circle on a rug. Like curious 4-year-olds everywhere, the students turned their heads to scrutinize us. Many smiled widely and some even waved. The teacher snapped at the children, demanding their attention. I was startled by her aggression. They were, after all, 4-year old children engaging in age-appropriate behavior.

That evening I called a staff person from this school who I’ve known for several years. I asked her to translate the scenes I witnessed outside the school. The conversation went something like this:

–“Those scholars probably had uniform violations. The staff persons were probably telling the moms to go home to have the kids change.”

–“I didn’t notice that they were wearing anything different from the other children.”

–“Well, they may have had the wrong color shoes. Or maybe they had the correct color shirt, but it didn’t have the school’s insignia on it.”

–“They have to go back home for that?”

–“Unless they want to spend the day in a behavior support room.”

Incredulous, I pressed my friend for details. I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?
This sort of interaction between students and staff was not uncommon in no-excuses charter schools I visited over the years.

Occasionally I did visit schools that combine academic rigor and kindness with student bodies that are mostly Black and low-income. But those schools were the exception. I’ve seen schools where children are taught to track the teachers with their eyes, move their mouths in a specific way, and engage in other humiliating rituals that have little educational value.

I visited a school that suspended 40 percent of its 5-year-old children who had been diagnosed with disabilities. At some schools, when children are sick, their parents were forced to produce a doctor’s note because school leaders believed the parents were lying. But some of these parents were uninsured and there weren’t — and still aren’t — many doctors in their neighborhoods. Obtaining a doctor’s note required them to take their children onto packed public buses so they could go to public health clinics or emergency rooms.

Schools that still do this are telling these parents that they are not trusted. And while children in these schools are taught computational math and textual analysis, they also learn that they are congenitally profane.

Charter schools arose a generation ago in Washington, D.C. when the city was poor and in the grips of a decade-long homicide epidemic. I was part of a group of 20-somethings frustrated with the lack of progress in the city’s long-troubled public school system. We had been creating programs for the D.C. Public Schools system that dramatically outpaced the district’s regular academic outcomes, and we wanted to turn these programs into actual schools.

We talked about forging solutions with parents and students, working to retain every single student, exhorting patience about building the infrastructure from which improved academic outcomes would spring.

But little of this vision was attractive to an emerging cadre of funders and policymakers who placed huge bets on charter schools. They submitted to a vision, not based on a shred of evidence, that Black and Brown children would thrive if they were taught “character” and “grit.” The way to do this, apparently, was to create an assembly-line model of instruction with rigid rules. Children who could not abide by these rules were “counseled out” to return to traditional public schools. Now about one-third of D.C. charter schools are in the no-excuses category, enrolling at least half of the charter student population. (Some of these schools say they are changing, but I haven’t seen real evidence of that.)…

The D.C. Public Charter School Board was created in 1996, at a time when homicide rates in the District were so high the city was dubbed the “murder capital.” It is no wonder the D.C. Public Charter School Board jumped on the “no-excuses” bandwagon.

What have we gained from this system? As of 2018-19 — the latest data available on the website of the charter school board website — only 8.5 percent of Black high school students (about 80 percent of the student population) in charter schools were deemed proficient in math and 21 percent in English Language Arts, according to scores on the standardized PARCC exam.

There are some charter schools that are doing amazing work, but the system itself is ineffective. The vast majority of our students are not remotely ready for the rigors of college coursework.

After untold millions of dollars of investment and the creation of scores of schools — there were 128 operating this year — it is time for us to admit that this experiment is not working as it should.
So what must be done?

The District must rethink its charter schools, and more specifically, charter schools must be integrated. “Chocolate City” has been replaced by a city where upper-income White residents and a more diverse spectrum of Black residents exist in equal numbers.

One of the few scalable policies that dramatically improved academic outcomes for Black students was the integration of American public schools in the 1970s and ’80s. The Performance Management Framework that ranks the quality of each charter school should ensure that schools reflect the demographics of the city as it is today, particularly given that charter schools are not constrained by neighborhood boundaries that enforce segregation in traditional public schools…

“Separate and equal” should not stand in one of the most liberal cities in the United States.

In addition to recommending the racial integration of charter schools, Bumbaugh proposes that low-income parents of charter schools students be added to the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

Moreover power needs to be distributed more evenly. At first glance, the concentration of institutional power is not evident at the Public Charter School Board.

Most of the board members, including the current executive director, are Black or Latino. A closer look — and I am including myself in this observation — reveals that we are not remotely similar to most of the families with children attending D.C. public charter schools. Fully 80 percent of these families are African Americans who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is not the same as at risk, but which is generally seen as a proxy for school poverty.

The people who are on the charter school board are highly educated professionals. Since I began serving on the panel — which has seven rotating volunteers, all appointed by the D.C. mayor — there have been 10 sitting members, half of whom attended Yale, Stanford or Harvard universities, or some combination of the three. We are well-versed in the contours of institutional power and know how to operate inside of its rarely articulated but clearly delineated boundaries. We’ve been rewarded for decoding these rules and abiding by them, which is precisely why we are selected for these coveted roles. We provide cover through optical diversity.

But if we really want to embrace equity, it’s time to rethink the make-up of the Public Charter School Board. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will have a unique opportunity to reshape this board over the coming year as five of its seven members will be termed out.

We need a board with members who reflect the communities served by D.C. charter sector. As cities move away from elected school boards to mayoral appointments, it’s critical that the voices that used to represent low-income communities continue to be present.

In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?

Imagine that: Charter schools authorized by those most affected by them.

Peter Greene wonders if you have missed Michelle Rhee, once the Wonder Woman of the edreform biz, but recently absent from the national scene. After her meteoric rise to national prominence, when she was selected to be chancellor of the District of Columbia public schools after two years of TFA teaching, she was a colossus: on the cover of TIME as a miracle worker, featured in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” frequently interviewed on national TV. Her tenure in D.C. was controversial and stormy: she fired teachers and principals and made bold claims about test scores. When Adrian Fenty, the mayor who appointed her, was defeated, she left and started an organization called StudentsFirst, which she said would raise $1 billion and recruit one million members. she never reached either goal, but she traveled the country advocating for charters and vouchers and against teachers’ unions. She allied with Jeb Bush and other school choice advocates. as her star faded, she disappeared from public view.

Peter Greene says she is making a return public appearance at a Sacramento State University event on September27, where she is the keynote speaker. You can watch on Zoom.

Valerie Jablow is a parent advocate in the District of Columbia. Here she remembers Elizabeth Davis, the president of the Washington Teachers Union, who died tragically in an automobile accident on Easter evening. She was part of the new wave of teacher unionism, which is social justice unionism, a commitment not just to the benefits of teachers but to the well-being of students and to their opportunity to have a well-resourced and equitable education.

Teaching for Change posted this beautiful tribute to Liz Davis and her amazing life in DC. It is both a very welcome personal history–and the story of our DC schools.

Indeed, Liz Davis’s work as the head of the Washington Teachers’ Union has lived larger in my life as a DCPS parent than that of all other DC education leaders I have known put together—and touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of other DC residents. Just since the start of 2021, my email inbox has broadly distributed messages from Liz about needed action on nearly every current pressing matter in DC education, including the research practice partnership, DCPS re-opening, PARCC testing, a survey about teacher computers, re-examining school governance, and school librarians being excessed.

Our mayor may be in control of our schools—but no mayor, and no other elected or appointed leader in DC, has ever been in command of DC education advocacy and justice like Liz Davis. Her tenacity in the face of injustice has been both balm and shield for everyone who has battled for better schools in DC.

Yet always, always, behind everything I ever knew she did or said was that quiet, unflagging belief in a better, more equitable future, which seems to be the legacy of every great teacher. When I chose to sue DC over the chancellor selection panel excluding teachers, parents, and students and had only a few plaintiffs, Liz Davis simply put me in touch with a teacher who agreed to be a plaintiff. Then, without a word otherwise, Liz had the WTU submit an amicus brief. That document was indeed a friend (per the Latin word amicus) in what was for me, a DCPS parent, a notably unfriendly proceeding.

It is hard for me to believe that someone who was so alive is gone–and so suddenly. 

The last email I got from Liz was a letter to the chancellor about IMPACT, DCPS’s teacher review process. Fittingly, it came on April Fool’s Day.

Her last phone call to me was Easter morning, when she left a voicemail about a special education committee meeting this week she thought I might want to know about–and then noted what she thought were two important posts from this blog regarding IMPACT (here and here).

How lucky have we been to have known Liz Davis–and what a great teacher we have lost.

The Brookings Institution published a study of the D.C. school system, which is almost evenly divided between public schools and charter schools. It was written by three scholars: Vanessa Williamson, Brookings Institution; Jackson Gode, Brookings Institution; and Hao Sun, Gallaudet University. The title of their study is “We All Want What’s Best for Our Kids.” Their findings are based on close reading of an online parent forum called “DC Urban Moms,” where school choice is an important topic.

What they found is not surprising. Choice intensifies and facilitates racial and socioeconomic segregation. This is the same phenomenon that has been documented in choice programs everywhere. The most advantaged parents master the system and get their children into what is perceived as the “best schools.” The “best schools” are those that have the most advantaged students.

The study begins:

Public education in the District includes a system of traditional public schools and a system of public 8
charter schools; in 2018–19, these schools served over 90,000 students at 182 schools. The city is highly diverse, as is the incoming school-age population. Among children under five, 48 percent are Black, 27 percent are white non-Hispanic, and 17 percent are Hispanic.9 54 percent of the city’s public school students are in traditional (DCPS) public schools, while 46 percent are in public charter schools (DCPCS). All students have the right to attend their local public school, or they can enter a lottery for a seat at another traditional public school or public charter school.10


In practice, parents’ school choices are limited. Housing in Washington is strongly segregated by race and class, with popular schools generally located in expensive or rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.11 Housing prices in the District are high and rising, and affordable housing is in exceptionally short supply.12 The District’s school system does not provide regular school bus transportation; children can ride public transit to school for free, but commutes can be long, and it is often impractical for working parents to accompany young children to a school that is far from home.13 Most students attend a school in their own wards, with students in poorer parts of the city facing longer commutes.14


In making decisions about where to send their children to school, parents (and especially more privileged parents) are key contributors to school segregation and inequality.


Even for parents willing or able to enroll their children far from home, there remain fewer options than might first appear. The most popular traditional public schools rarely have spaces available to students who live beyond the school’s catchment area. Popular charter schools often have waitlists of hundreds of students.15 Moreover, researching the schools available via the lottery requires time and resources; school lottery waitlists are dominated by families that are more socioeconomically privileged.16


In making decisions about where to send their children to school, parents (and especially more privileged parents) are key contributors to school segregation and inequality. As the District of Columbia Auditor’s office has stated, “there is a pattern of District families moving away from schools with more students considered at-risk17 to schools with fewer students considered at-risk. These moves are facilitated by the robust choice model in DC.”18

Richard P. Phelps was hired by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to oversee testing, which was a crucial element in her plans to “reform” the district and raise test scores. During his time there, outsiders raised questions about whether there was widespread cheating on tests.

Phelps addresses those questions in this post.

He begins:

Ten years ago, I worked as the director of assessments for DCPS. For temporal context, I arrived after the first of the infamous test cheating scandals and left just before the incident that spawned a second. Indeed, I filled a new position created to both manage test security and design an expanded testing program. I departed shortly after Vincent Gray, who opposed an expanded testing program, defeated Adrian Fenty in the September 2010 DC mayoral primary. My tenure coincided with Michelle Rhee’s last nine months as chancellor.

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average U.S. school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons:

–in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;

–test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time;

–after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and

–after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven.

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.

Phelps’ articles were originally published at the Nonpartisan Education Review. They were reposted on Valerie Jablow’s blog.

Richard P. Phelps recounts his experiences as the director of assessment for Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Phelps was expected to expand the notorious IMPACT testing program, meant to evaluate teachers. Phelps visited hundreds of administrators and teachers and asked their advice about how to make the program better. They gave him good ideas, and he passed them on to top staff as recommendations. The professionals’ advice was rejected by two top reformers.

Phelps’ article was posted on the blog of D.C. activist Valerie Jablow. She acknowledged its origin in this editor’s note:

[Ed. Note: In part 1 of this series, semi-retired educator Richard P. Phelps provided a first-hand account of what went down in DCPS as ed reformers in the early days of mayoral control pushed standardized tests; teacher evaluations based on those tests; and harsh school penalties. This second part looks at the cheating scandals that arose in the wake of such abusive practices. Such accounts are all the more important now that the DC auditor has just released a bombshell report of poor stewardship of DC’s education data. Both articles appeared in Nonpartisan Education Review in September 2020 and are reprinted here with permission. For this part, the author gratefully acknowledges the fact-checking assistance of retired DCPS teacher Erich Martel and DC school budget expert Mary Levy.]

Phelps came to realize that the “reformers” really didn’t care about improving education or helping children. They were padding their resumes, building their career prospects in the lavishly funded reform world.

Phelps writes:

Alas, much of the activity labelled “reform” was just for show, and for padding resumes. Numerous central office managers would later work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Numerous others would work for entities supported by the Gates or aligned foundations, or in jurisdictions such as Louisiana, where ed reformers held political power. Most would be well paid.

Their genuine accomplishments, or lack thereof, while at DCPS seemed to matter little. What mattered was the appearance of accomplishment and, above all, loyalty to the group. That loyalty required going along to get along: complicity in maintaining the façade of success while withholding any public criticism of or disagreement with other in-group members.

Unfortunately, in the United States what is commonly showcased as education reform is neither a civic enterprise nor a popular movement. Neither parents, the public, nor school-level educators have any direct influence. Rather, at the national level, U.S. education reform is an elite, private club—a small group of tightly connected politicos and academics—a mutual admiration society dedicated to the career advancement, political influence, and financial benefit of its members, supported by a gaggle of wealthy foundations (e.g., Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace, Hewlett, Smith-Richardson).

Despite their failures, the elites who led DCPS moved on to remunerative positions. The game goes on. And it’s not “for the children.”

Chris Myers Asch grew up in D.C. His mother still lives there. He now lives in Maine and he urges his senators in Maine to support statehood for D.C. In this column, published in the Maine Press Herald, he explains why the District should gain statehood and why the residents of the District should have the right to vote. Asch teaches at Colby College and is the author of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capitol.

He writes:

My mom is an amazing American. The only child of a Census Bureau statistician and a Jewish social scientist (who fled her native Germany because of the Nazis), she was born and raised in the nation’s capital. She had two children while attending medical school and another (me!) in Laos, where she practiced medicine as my father served in Vietnam. She worked in pediatrics and later in a drug clinic, then spent the last 15 years of her career caring for veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She has lived an extraordinary life of service.

But she can’t vote.

My mom and over 700,000 American citizens – 32,000 of whom are veterans – have no voting representatives or senators in Congress because they happen to live in Washington, D.C. That’s right. The people who reside in the capital of the world’s foremost democracy do not actually get to participate fully in that democracy. They can vote for president, but in Congress all they have are a “Non-Voting Delegate” and a “Shadow Senator,” neither of whom has full voting rights...

The power to create new states rests entirely with Congress. Last summer, with support from Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, the House of Representatives voted 232-180 to turn D.C. into a state, the first D.C. statehood bill ever to pass a house of Congress. The bill is scheduled to be introduced in the Senate on Friday, and we need both Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins to get on board as well.

Some critics say D.C. is too small too have statehood, but it has a larger population than Maine or Wyoming. Furthermore, the people of D.C. pay more taxes than the people of 22 states.

It is time. The District of Columbia should become a state, with representation in Congress.

This link will take you to interviews conducted by ABC’s WJLA in the District of Columbia.

Three police officers and the chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police describe what happened on January 6.

One of them was dragged out of one of the Capitol entrances and beaten with his own baton.

Another was crushed inside a door and nearly had an eye gouged out.

They describe a mob that was bent on mayhem and destruction. They describe a mob that wanted blood.

What you will hear is the voices of men and a woman sworn to uphold the law and to protect the Constitution.

They risked their lives for us.

The Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance is led by Professor Paul Peterson, an advocate for school choice. It would not be off the mark to say that PEPG exists to promote the DeVos agenda. Soon after she was confirmed, PEPG invited her to speak, and her speech was disrupted by Harvard students not affiliated with PEPG. Peterson has been the mentor for a generation of pro-school choice academics, including Jay Greene (University of Arkansas, Department of Education Reform), Patrick Wolf (same, also served as “independent evaluator” of Milwaukee and DC voucher prigrams), and Martin West (Harvard Graduate School of Education). Peterson recently appeared at the White House to support Trump’s call to reopen schools and co-wrote an oped with Dr. Scott Atlas (both are senior fellows at the rightwing Hoover Institution). Dr. Atlas supports Trump’s views that mask-wearing should not be mandatory, that children and adolescents don’t get the virus, th ast schools should reopen without delay, and that lockdowns are unnecessary. In many articles about Dr. Atlas, Peterson is his reliable defender.

The event today asks whether teachers unions can be part of the solution. Michelle Rhee and George Parker. Parker was head of the Washington Teachers Union when Rhee was chancellor. When he stepped down, he went to work for Rhee. He now works for a charter school lobbying group. More than 90% of charters are non-union.

Fall 2020 Colloquium Series: Can Teachers Unions Be Part of the Solution?

The PEPG Colloquium series continues Thursday, Sept. 24, with “Can Teachers Unions Be Part of the Solution?,” a talk by Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO, StudentsFirst, former Chancellor for District of Columbia Public Schools, and George Parker, Senior Advisor, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, former President, District of Columbia Teachers Union.

Thursday, Sept. 24
12-1:15 p.m.
Register to attend the Zoom webinar

Richard Phelps was in charge of assessment in the last year of the reign of Michelle Rhee as superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools. In this post, he describes how difficult and time-consuming it is to identify test cheating and how little the D.C. leadership cared about making the effort. Phelps was supposed to monitor test security and expand testing.

He writes:

The recurring test cheating scandals of the Rhee-Henderson years may seem extraordinary but, in fairness, DCPS was more likely than the average US school district to be caught because it received a much higher degree of scrutiny. Given how tests are typically administered in this country, the incidence of cheating is likely far greater than news accounts suggest, for several reasons:

· in most cases, those who administer tests—schoolteachers and administrators—have an interest in their results;
· test security protocols are numerous and complicated yet, nonetheless, the responsibility of non-expert ordinary school personnel, guaranteeing their inconsistent application across schools and over time;
· after-the-fact statistical analyses are not legal proof—the odds of a certain amount of wrong-to-right erasures in a single classroom on a paper-and-pencil test being coincidental may be a thousand to one, but one-in-a-thousand is still legally plausible; and
· after-the-fact investigations based on interviews are time-consuming, scattershot, and uneven.

Still, there were measures that the Rhee-Henderson administrations could have adopted to substantially reduce the incidence of cheating, but they chose none that might have been effective. Rather, they dug in their heels, insisted that only a few schools had issues, which they thoroughly resolved, and repeatedly denied any systematic problem.

He punctures Rhee’s claim that the test security agency Caveon never found evidence of “systematic cheating.”

He writes:

Caveon, however, had not looked for “systematic” cheating. All they did was interview a few people at several schools where the statistical anomalies were more extraordinary than at others. As none of those individuals would admit to knowingly cheating, Caveon branded all their excuses as “plausible” explanations. That’s it; that is all that Caveon did. But, Caveon’s statement that they found no evidence of “widespread” cheating—despite not having looked for it—would be frequently invoked by DCPS leaders over the next several years.